In this YA novel, a paralyzed, mute teenager gets a new roommate, an elderly jazz performer, who can hear his thoughts—and take him back in time.
It’s 1987, and Aaron Greenberg, 14, has been imprisoned for life by his own body. Once he was an active boy who played the trombone, but two years ago, he contracted a rare form of cryptococcal meningitis that left him paralyzed and, supposedly, brain-dead. Ever since, he’s lived in a nursing home, unable to communicate but fully cognizant. Aaron passes the time by entering his “mind palace”: not the memory technique but an imagined castle with fabulous rooms to explore. Then Aaron meets his new roommate, the elderly Solomon Felsher, who suffers from some dementia but was once a famous jazz musician, playing his saxophone with all the greats. He can hear Aaron’s thoughts—and occasionally, Solomon somehow pulls Aaron into reliving important episodes from the saxophonist’s past, in which the boy finds himself providing crucial help. For example, Aaron saves the day when he plays trombone during Solomon’s first Chicago gig. Solomon also has a pretty, kind 14-year-old granddaughter, Sarah, who learns the secret of his communication with Aaron. Convincing his doctor takes some doing, but over the next two years, with Sarah’s support, Aaron slowly recovers. In the real world, he’ll need all his new strength to help his friend Solomon one last time. Twiss (I AM SLEEPLESS: Sim 299, 2015, etc.) offers a captivating double premise with his story of a locked-in boy and time travel via dementia. The author skillfully weaves these threads together with another double story about Aaron’s and Solomon’s progress, one toward health, the other toward acceptance. Not only that, Twiss handles Solomon’s Yiddish-inflected voice and Aaron’s teenage sensibility nicely, develops the youthful romance sweetly, and provides exciting scenes of danger, daring, and escape. (One quibble: Aaron’s last name is sometimes spelled “Greenburg” in the text.) This warmhearted novel focuses on how people make connections and help each other through the most trying circumstances with good humor, music, and affection.
An intriguing premise, effective voice, and entertaining writing make for a winning tale about two musicians.